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BUGS MAKING A BIG STINK IN ST. GEORGE

Swarms of stink bugs have descended upon Washington County during the summer, first appearing in Toquerville a few weeks ago and now settling here this week.

"There must have been jillions of them," Lawrence Smethurst said of his encounter with the smelly pests at Red Cliffs Mall on Monday. "I killed a few, decided they were stink bugs and I didn't kill anymore. I've never seen anything like it. It was awful."Pest control experts attribute the invasion to the wetter-than-normal spring causing a large number to hatch, coupled with wildfires eliminating their food source and forcing the bugs to head for cities and towns to eat.

"Don't panic," advised Adrian Hinton, a Washington County agent with the Utah State University Extension Service. "The bugs will leave. This is an unusual year."

Meantime, residents and business owners are finding it difficult to cope.

The extension office has been swamped with callers, who are being told to fend for themselves or hire an exterminator since the county doesn't have the resources to spray.

Tom DeLong, owner of Dixie Pest Control, said his company had up to 30-plus calls early Tuesday.

"We serviced as many as we could - millions (of bugs) probably between crews and myself," DeLong said.

The municipal airport resorted to spraying when sweeping didn't work.

"When I walked in the building this (Tuesday) morning, it was just crawling. It's not much fun to see them like that," said airport manager Jack Jeppson.

Two workers swept up four to five gallons of the bugs before the exterminators arrived.

"We've been vacuuming them and sweeping them off the building," Jeppson said. "My dumpster will probably fly away. I hope we don't get too many more."

The insect's major food source and nesting ground is mustard weed, which started dying in the hot, dry weather. In their search for food in populated areas, the bugs will likely target vine fruits and vegetables such as melons and cucumbers as well as peaches, Hinton said.

The bugs attack the fruit and the new stems, piercing and sucking out their food.

"They're not going to chew anything up," Hinton said.

Four species of the common stink bug have been found in the area, measuring just under an inch long and either light green, brown, black or gray in color.

"They fly down in the evening and congregate around the lights," Hinton said, suggesting people leave as few lights on as possible to discourage the pests.

Another tip to avoid the insect's rancid odor is not to squash them.

"Scoop them up and stick them in a bag," Hinton said. "The odor is very pungent, and they're difficult to get off the sidewalk."